NEW ORLEANS — The Patriots need a repeat performance of their November 18th match-up with St. Louis, only better.
New England found themselves on the wrong end of a hard-fought 24-17 loss at Foxboro Stadium that night, and a national audience had no idea that they were getting a preview of the two teams that are now in New Orleans preparing for a Superbowl showdown.
The funny thing is, the high-flying Rams haven’t exactly been amazing in recent weeks. The Rams destroyed the Green Bay Packers 45-17 in their divisional playoff game two weeks ago, but it wasn’t because of their offense. Looking back at that game, 21-points came off interception returns by St. Louis’ defense, and 14-more came following another interception and a fumble by the Packers deep in their own territory which set up easy touchdowns for the Rams.
They scored 35-points at the hands of Packer turnovers. Thanks to the arrogance of head coach Mike Martz for not sitting quarterback Kurt Warner in the fourth quarter while sitting on a big lead, Warner also suffered bruised ribs that certainly caused him to be less than “super” against the Eagles this past Sunday. The Rams won that game because of Marshall Faulk’s 159-yard, two touchdown rushing performance, not because of Warner’s arm. The Rams quarterback finished with a mere 212-yards passing and one touchdown pass, and that was the reason for the 29-24 final score.
Needless to say, the 14-point favorites now look very beatable.
The Patriots were able to hold Marshall Faulk to 83-yards on 20-carries in their November 18th meeting, with 33 of those yards coming in the final minutes of the game, and that helped the Rams keep possession of the ball and run out the clock while preserving their 24-17 lead. Faulk had 70-yards receiving in the game, with 20 of those coming in that 7-minute plus drive as well.
Before that they had held him in check, and that’s something they’ll need to try and do again this weekend in order to keep the game close.
However one person they’ll need to do a better job on is Isaac Bruce who caught 7-passes for 130-yards in that game. One of those receptions came on the Rams first possession of the game when Bruce beat Ty Law for 38-yards, his longest grab of the day. They used him long (he caught balls from 38, 25, 17, and 25-yards out), and they also used him on short patterns as well (catches of 4, 10, and 11-yards).
Bruce was quiet in the Rams win over Green Bay two weeks ago (1 catch for 19-yards), but he had 8-grabs last week for 84-yards and a touchdown last Sunday and joins a stable of talented receivers that New England will have to try and slow down on the Superdome astroturf.
The Patriots anticipated the Rams every move early on in that game, with defenders getting into the throwing lanes and either batting the pass down, or coming up with interceptions (two in the first quarter), one of which was run back for a touchdown. Belichick did a fantastic job of preparing his team, but his defense simply ran out of gas in the fourth quarter.
In that final quarter New England put together a scoring drive that lasted just under three minutes to answer a Rams touchdown to pull them within seven points with 7:46 remaining in the game, but St. Louis methodically moved the ball down the field and ate up the clock.
Time ticked away, and the result ended up being a disappointing loss.
The Rams know how to capitalize off of turnovers. They scored 10-points off of two Tom Brady interceptions in the first meeting, and also turned around and marched down the field to a touchdown following a fumble by Antowain Smith on the three-yard line. It was a 17-point swing obviously made the difference in the game.
St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner hasn’t exactly set the world on fire the last two weeks, and with left tackle Orlando Pace banged up after leaving Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, it could certainly put him in a difficult spot as the Rams don’t exactly have someone with a lot of playing experience behind him. Back-up quarterback Jamie Martin had only three pass attempts during the regular season, and in nine seasons he’s only appeared in 20-games, starting only one in his career.
If the Patriots can put a couple of hits on Warner early it could set up a turnover to help them grab the momentum just as it did in the first one when they got a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown by Terrell Buckley.
Marhsall Faulk carried the ball 31-times last weekend, and while he may have rushed for 159-yards, he took a lot of hits in the process. They will need to be very physical with him each time he touches the football.
They will say that the Rams possess speed, but it will be up to New England to keep that offense off the field. When Warner and Company are on the field the Patriots will need to play the way they did against the Steelers and keep St. Louis’ receivers from making the big play. If they can do that and keep them from converting on third down (New England has held their opponents to under 30% during the postseason) and also keep possession on offense by converting a few of their own, they’ll have a very good chance of winning the football game.
Avoid turnovers, prevent the big play on defense. A tall order one may think, but they’ve shown enough all season to make fans believe they can do it. They’ll find out on Sunday if the magic can last at least one more week.